Leaving Sepilok, leaving the orangutans, looking back at the best time of my life!

It’s been just over a week since I left Borneo and I know it’s going to sound terribly cliché but there are honestly not enough words to describe what an amazing time I had whilst I was there. When I booked the trip I had 19 months to wait and I can’t believe that it’s over!

Borneo is an amazing place, the local people are the friendliest and so kind and generous. They made us feel welcome from the minute we were picked up from the airport, to the minute we left. All the staff that we met at the centre are such wonderful people, so kind, happy and so funny! We would have a laugh with them all everyday and it was honestly a pleasure to get to know them and work with them. You can see the passion in every person that works at the centre, they do everything for the well-being of the orangutans that they care for and the bond between the staff and the orangutans at the centre is so touching to see. They have bought these animals up since they were babies and you can see the love they have for them. There is such a fun, positive, happy atmosphere when you’re working at the centre, everyday there is laughing, joking and singing, it’s really a great place to work!

Next are the group of people who I was lucky enough to share this wonderful experience with…
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I honestly couldn’t have been put with a better bunch of people! We all seemed to just click straight away, there was never any awkwardness amongst us and it honestly felt like we were old friends! Living and working together had the potential to be a bit ‘much’ but it just felt like a little family. It was so nice to be surrounded by people who were genuinely happy for one another, there was no competition or separate groups, everyone was just so happy to be there and to make the most of every opportunity that we were given. It was lovely finishing work for the day, coming home and the first thing you’d be asked was “how was your day?” and knowing that the person asking you genuinely wanted to hear how you’d got on!
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We had some of the best times together and I didn’t feel homesick once while I was there and I think it’s because we all got on so well and it felt like a family dynamic (a big family!) We all had dinner together in the evenings, watched films together, would do each others hair, looked out for each other when we were ill, laughed our heads off and just shared in the excitement of being there and getting stuck in at every opportunity! I’m so happy that I met such an amazing group of people and I know we’ll all keep in touch, we’ve already talked about reunions and I can’t wait to see them all again and to pick up where we left off!

Lastly, I will miss the orangutans, more than I could have ever imagined. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a HUGE animal lover and love every animal I meet but being around the orangutans really has made a huge impact on me. I have never been around such an incredible animal before and I feel privileged to have had such close contact with them and to have shared some very special moments with them.
These beautiful, loving, sweet, friendly animals have been amazing to get to know. Learning all about their different stories, how they came to the centre, their different personalities etc has been wonderful. Orangutans share 96.4% of the same DNA as us and it’s incredible how similar they are to us, having that close contact and being able to watch them on a day to day basis was remarkable and I loved every day I spent with them.
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These beautiful animals live solitary lives in the wild so it was so special to watch them interacting with one another, on my last day there I saw Poogle, one of the biggest males at the centre, playing with Koko who is one of the smallest babies at the centre. It was such a special moment to watch, watching how gentle he was playing with her was so beautiful to see. Orangutans are about 6 times stronger than a man and they have a grip strength that is 4 times that of a human so it’s amazing to be around these animals and realise how gentle they are being with you! I will never forget when I first held one of the babies hands, how big and heavy it was, it was incredible!
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It breaks my heart that these beautiful animals are now on the endangered list and are on the verge of becoming extinct. Their homes have been destroyed for palm oil plantations, mothers are being killed and in some cases the babies being kept as pets. This really upsets me, I hate the fact that these wonderful animals are suffering because of man’s greed – it was also heartbreaking to see how the jungle thrives, it has it’s own eco system where everything runs smoothly and then one day we go through and bulldoze it all…for money. Palm oil is a huge industry in Malaysia and brings alot of money into the country, it also brings alot of destruction. Palm oil is in 40-50% of our household products and around 90% of the orangutans habitat has been destroyed through deforestation in the last 20 years causing them to now be on the endangered list. Saying that, I know that the future for the orangutans at Sepilok looks bright. They have the love and care of the staff and I can’t wait to see what is in store for the little babies that I helped to look after.
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The two months that I spent at Sepilok truly have been the best two months of my life, words cannot describe how much I loved this place and the people who I met along the way. Our last few days there were filled with laughter and tears, no one wanted to leave and I think this was a testament to how special everyone had found their time there.
The orangutans, the Sepilok centre and Borneo has well and truly stolen a piece of my heart and I’ve already promised myself that one day I will go back. Visiting such an amazing country, spending time with wonderful people, living in the jungle and learning about such amazing creatures has been the best thing I’ve ever done. It really has taught me that it’s good to be scared of the unknown, to put yourself in new situations, to shake things up a bit because you never know, it could end up being the best thing you ever did!

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My second rotation in the outdoor nursery and saying goodbye to the gang!

Saturday the 15th October was the beginning of my second week in the outdoor nursery with Bidu, Beryl, Kolapis, Gellison and Chiquita. These babies are all aged between 4-6 and would still be with their mothers in the wild. Orangutans learn a huge amount from their mothers as they live solitary lives and only have their mother to teach them things. By the time orangutan babies are the same as Beryl and Bidu they would be venturing further away from their Mother to explore on their own but they would always be keeping a close eye on Mum incase of danger.

The outdoor nursery is a big space with a jungle gym for the orangutans to play on, it has ropes and tyres that they can swing and play with. There are also three platforms that we use for feeding. There are also lots of ropes that go from the outdoor nursery into the jungle and we want them to start venturing off in the jungle and socialising with the semi wild orangtans that are also at the centre.

During my second week in the outdoor nursery I made sure I took time every day to be aware of how amazing my surroundings were, it’s so easy just to focus on the task in hand like – making sure Chiquita doesn’t go on the roof, stopping Bidu playing in the puddles, making sure they’re not on the floor eating mud etc, that it’s easy to take the surroundings for granted. The outdoor nursery is a beautiful space that’s surrounded by huge trees and it’s great watching the semi wild orangutans come into the nursery from the jungle to have a play with the babies and eat.

img_6826img_6827img_6830It’s great to spend time with the babies in the outdoor nursery, they are at such a great age and find fun in everything! Their mood changes just like ours, some days they are extremely cheeky and give you the run around, other days they are a little quieter and are quite happy to sit and quietly wrestle with one another, other days its a mixture of both!
We have to make sure that the babies don’t go onto the ground and instead choose to spend their time in the trees or on the ropes – this is because wild orangutans never spend anytime on the forest floor, they are in danger of being hurt by predators such as dogs or snakes, I would never have thought that dogs would attack an orangutan but it’s something that does happen so we need to teach them that the floor is a dangerous place to be!
In our second week we started using a plastic snake on a stick when the babies were on the floor, we used it sparingly as we didn’t want them to get used to it but it was very effective as they were very cautious of it and would go up onto the platforms when we got closer with it, this is a great way to teach them that they need to stay up high if they see something that are scared of!
img_6841img_6842img_6857Working with the babies was such a special and amazing experience, when I walked with Beryl for the first time and she was walking and holding my hand I was shocked at how heavy her hand was! When you see the babies swinging and climbing you see just how strong they are so when they hold your hand so gently it’s amazing because you realise how gentle they are being with you. Another thing that shocked me is how heavy they are! Bidu, who is 4 and likes to be dragged around rather than walking weighs 23kg! It’s alot of weight to be dragging around with one arm and lifting up onto the feeding platforms that are eye level, I swear I have built up muscles in my arms quicker than when I had a gym membership!
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These little bundles of fun really are a pleasure to work with, it’s weird to even call it work because I loved every second I spent with them and I had so many special moments with them. They have the biggest personalities and would make me laugh on a daily basis, I would love watching them learn from one another and progress over the weeks. When I first worked with them, on the first day I was a bit intimidated by them, just by their sheer strength alone but you soon feel comfortable being so close to them and start to learn about each individual and their behavior.
I will cherish the little moments I shared with them like cleaning their hands and feet, this was my favourite part of the day! You would say ‘Bagis’ which means ‘Give’ and they would give you their hand and you would place it under the sink and wipe any mud off it (they can pick up nasty parasites from the mud and it can make them very sick), when you’d done both hands it was time for their feet to have a wash too, when you are washing their feet they place their hands on your shoulders and I swear the first time it happened I nearly died, it was the cutest thing ever!
img_6856img_6854img_6855The way that these guys look up as you as you walk along together is just breath taking. At the end of the day when we give them their milk they would look into your eyes with such intensity, it was amazing and I cherished those moments everyday.
It was heart breaking to say goodbye to these guys but I know they are in the best place with a team of people who care so deeply about every single one of them. The rangers have looked after these babies from such a young age, Chiquita for instance was bought to the centre at 3 weeks old! The orangutans at the centre are never released into the jungle, instead they are free to come and go as they please and when the time is right they will choose to spend the majority of their time in the jungle rather than at the centre. You can see the strong bond between the rangers and the orangutans at the centre and the love they all share. I know these guys will go on to have great lives, I’m so happy I was able to meet them and I can’t wait to see what their futures hold!

You can actually adopt some of the orangutans that are at the centre, including Bidu, Beryl, Chiquita and Gellison that I looked after in the outdoor nursery, it’s really worthwhile as your money from the adoption helps the centre and you get a lovely gift and updates about your chosen orangutan. It’s a great idea for a gift! Please click here or visit www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/adopt and please share with anyone that you think would be interested!

Baggy trousers and Karaoke! : Thursday 13th October.

OK, OK….I know that the 13th of October was ages ago but the internet in the jungle can be a bit slow so now I’m catching up with blog posts!

On the 13th October we all got a taxi into Sandakan as we wanted to check out the markets and buy some baggy trousers!….nothing says ‘I’m travelling in Malaysia’ better than a pair of nice brightly coloured baggy trousers!
We got into Sandakan early and made our way to the markets, after stopping at McDonalds first. The market was huge with lots of clothes, food and cosmetics being sold.
14610977_10154747129036654_8694716605681478762_nWe went inside and got lost in a cloud of baggy trousers, the woman on the stalls would start shouting at you “What price?!”…”How much?”….in the end we all grabbed a few pairs each…(someone bought 7!) and left the market to have a little walk around Sandakan.
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The weather was glorious that day, so hot and it was lovely to walk around and see some new sights, it felt like we were all on holiday as it’s so different to where we have been staying.

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happy with our new purchases!

Also on Thursday we went out for the night, we headed into Mile 4 for some Karaoke! It was our first proper night out together and we were all really excited and a little apprehensive as none of us had really done karaoke before!…When we first got there we were a little overwhelmed as everyone that was already there was really going for it, karaoke is a big thing in Malaysia and they love a ballad!….We decided we needed to have a drink…we went up to the bar to order and soon realised that the drinking system was quite unusual, if you wanted spirits, you had to buy the whole bottle, so we bought a litre of vodka to start the night off!
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We had such a FUN night, everyone had a good laugh and really enjoyed themselves. We all sung a few songs, all the usual classics including a lovely rendition of Angels by Robbie Williams which you can watch below (apologies in advance) It was really nice to let our hair down and all enjoy a fun night together doing something different!

Being treated to a local Malaysian breakfast and a trip to the zoo : Tuesday 11th October. 

On Tuesday we went to work as usual, only to be told we were being treated to breakfast and a trip to the zoo!
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We piled into the back of the pickup truck with our ranger Jermious and our other ranger Ibrey. We were driven to the local Forest Research Centre and were treated to breakfast by our rangers. We were told that a traditional Malaysian breakfast consists of rice, noodles and something called ‘Roger’ which looks like spaghetti bolognese with pieces of meat or egg in it, it’s basically a mixture on any leftovers that you have! We also had a mixture of different cakes. They were all lovely, a mixture of sponges filled with coconut and one that tasted exactly the same as a cinnamon swirl (which was lovely!)
img_6685img_6684After breakfast we all got back into the truck and drove 2 miles down the road to the zoo. It was really busy because a school trip had just turned up. Ibrey, our ranger, explained that in Malaysia parents like to go on school trips with their children so it was very busy with mums and school children!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJermious bought our tickets and we entered the zoo, it was small and similar to a city zoo. They had macaques, lots of reptiles, crocodiles, a minor bird that spoke to us, lots of turkeys (which reminded me of home and made me miss my four!) chickens and ducks. It was nice to walk around, there was a huge pond with water lilies in and huge fish, catfish and turtles that you could feed.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the zoo we all got back into the truck to head home. Jermious and Ibrey jumped in the back of the pickup with us. “can you do this in your country?” she asked. “NO! We have to wear seatbelts too!”…Ibrey just laughed at us!
We drove the two miles home in the back of the truck, Ibrey was terrified because the driver, who was one of the young guys from our house, was driving really fast! Ibrey was screaming and shouting at him! We were in hysterics laughing at her! When we pulled up at the guesthouse Ibrey got out of the truck holding her head “Thank God, I’m still alive!”

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It’s hard to keep your eyes open when your hurtling down the motorway!

Oh don’t mind me, I’m just off to release a Python : Monday 10th October

After the Rosa incident on Monday, which you can read about here, we went back to work in the afternoon to do our usual routine of cleaning and ice lolly making. After we’d finished we were asking the staff if there was anything we could do before we finished for the day “you can go and hold the snake?”. By ‘the snake’, Ibrey meant a huge Reticulated Python that had been taken to Sepilok a week or so before. The snake was a healthy weight again and could now be released back into the wild.

We made our way around to the snakes cage and watched as the rangers got it out (it was quite angry so this was a bit nerve racking to watch!) once Jermious, the ranger, had hold of the snakes head it was time for us all to hold the body! It was so beautiful, the markings on it were gorgeous, lots of different browns with mustard yellow running through it.  It was huge too and so strong, you could feel the strength of its muscles pulsing through its body. After we had a photo it was time to release it!
img_6783I didn’t actually realise that we were going to be helping with that but Jermious said we’d all walk it down to the jungle!
We walked the short walk down to the boardwalk, stepped off the platform and placed it onto the ground. It slithered off and it’s beautiful markings instantly blended into the jungle and it was instantly camouflaged. We watched as it slighted along and made its way to the base of a tree. The next thing we knew it began ‘climbing’ up the tree, it’s body became straight as it began scaling the tree. Half of the snakes body was straight up the tree then it started to corkscrew it’s body around to help push it up further, it was such an amazing thing to watch, I had no idea snakes did that! After a short while it was up the tree and making its way across to a larger tree, Jermious explained that they live in holes in the larger trees.

It was incredible to be part of the snakes release and it was amazing to see it go back into the jungle. It’s so incredible to be given the opportunity to get involved with things like this while staying at the centre. What a great Monday!!

Naughty Rosa, the latte drinking orangutan

Monday the 10th October was a Monday like no other! My group started the day by cleaning the quarantine room at the clinic, it’s been  months since it’s been touched because Ceria and Kala (two naughty male orangutans at the centre) broke in and ripped all the lighting and fans out of the ceiling! We scrubbed all the cages, scrubbed the walls and bleached the floor. After a lick of paint and new lights the place looked as good as new! Ibrey, the lady who we work with in the clinic, was so happy that she could use the room again and was so thankful for our help, it really was so rewarding to be able to fix the room for her and the orangutans.

As we were leaving after our shift we were walking to the gate to leave the centre and we saw an orangutan standing with one of the cleaners, we didn’t recognise them and asked the cleaner who it was and if it was OK for us to walk passed them. “It’s Rosa, she’s OK”.
It’s always nice to see a new orangutan at the centre, there are so many semi wild ones that hang around on a daily basis that it’s nice to see a new face. We walked past Rosa and went back to our guesthouse to grab our cameras as we were going to pop to the sunbear sanctuary (which is a stones throw away from our house) in our lunchbreak.

As we walked into the entrance of the sunbear sanctuary we walked up the steps and infront was a tourist photographing an orangutan on the steps! It’s always a worry to see an orangutan outside the centre as there are tourists around that don’t respect the fact these are wild animals and will do anything for a good photo! (feeding them, cuddling them, calling them over – frustratingly those all happen! They’re not so happy when they get too close and get their phone/camera stolen by the orangutan!)
We soon realised it must be Rosa on the steps as she’d been hanging around the gate when we left work. We didn’t really know what to do when we saw her , we didn’t know what she was like with strangers as we’d never spent any time with her since being at the centre.
We called her name and she looked over at us and started walking towards us along the railings. We decided that if we could get her to follow us we would try and lead her back to the centre. The plan was working so far, we were calling her name and she was following along the railings (….this seems too easy, I thought to myself!)

Rosa continued along the railings until she stopped, looked over the edge and jumped down into the bushes below (I thought it had been too good to be true!) We watched her as she went off into the bush below us and pulled out a cup of coffee, half empty but complete with a straw! She took it in her hand and pulled herself back onto the railings where we were standing and decided to finish off the rest of the coffee! Although she shouldn’t have been drinking it (well done to the idiot that decided to throw their litter into the jungle – arghhh!) it was great to watch her do it!

The way she figured out how to get the coffee out, how she took out the straw, took off the lid and drank every last drop was so fascinating to watch, so human like!
One of the girls in my group decided to run back to the centre to see if they were happy with us bringing her back “erm…Rosa is up at the bear sanctuary drinking a latte!”
After she finished her coffee she was happy to follow us again. We had to get her past the tourists at the entrance to the bear sanctuary but this was fairly easy once I’d told them that she might try to steal their cameras, wallets, sunglasses or phones! She followed us all the way back to the centre, past the tourists and through the gates!
It was such a surreal moment having a wild orangutan following you along. I don’t know why she did so, we didn’t have anything with us that she might have wanted but I think it might have been because we knew her name and we had our work t-shirts on or many because we were new faces to her she was intrigued by us! It was so great just walking alongside her, with her glancing up at me everytime I called her name. Finally we reached the centre and we had done it – we got her back to the centre with us, her and the tourists all in one piece! We walked in through the gates, she looked at us then decided to go off and do her own thing and off she went! Mission accomplished!

Day two: Pool & Cocktails (…I know right?!)

After an amazing nights sleep I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new and exciting day! We all ate breakfast together which was lovely and then decided to venture down to the feeding platform again.

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The platform is a short walk away from the centre and it’s where tourists can see the Orangutans so it can get quite busy. We got there early and the jungle seems quite peaceful, then you’ll notice the trees will start swaying and rustling, then you’ll see a flash of Orange! The food is placed on the platform so everyone can get a good view, it’s fascinating seeing them sorting through the food on offer, trying to pick out the best piece of fruit on offer!

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We stayed there for an hour or so then came back to the resthouse and got our swimming gear ready as there is a hotel near by with a pool and wifi! It was glorious to be able to cool off in the pool, which was actually like a warm bath! but it gave us all some relief!
After the pool we headed to another local hotel for cocktails as it was Sarah (another volunteer’s) birthday! It was so lovely sitting with everyone, sipping cocktails having a laugh and a chat and getting to know one another.

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oh my…!

So I still can’t believe I’m writing this from the jungle of Borneo (sidenote – it’s after midnight here so apologies in advance if this makes no sense) The rain is hammering it down outside but with temperatures of 30+ it’s nice to get some relief from the humidity! So where do I start?!…

well we arrived at Sandakan airport at about midday and were picked up by Ronn who is our ‘go-to’ for this trip and made our way to the resort which was only about 25 minutes car journey from the airport, she had explained to us in the car that if we were quick at taking our bags up to our rooms when we got back to the house we might have enough time to catch the orangutans at the feeding station. The feeding station is a viewing platform that’s open to tourists that visit the centre, they feed the orangutans here twice a day. We were all beyond excited and threw our bags in the guesthouse (which is lovely by the way and much nicer than I expected!) and made our way down there!
As we started walking into the jungle I couldn’t get over the noise, it’s so loud with buzzing and screeching from the birds and insects. We walked down a wooden walk way and I just couldn’t believe where I was, it was so overwhelming and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The trees are so tall and the bases of some of them are as big as a small car!

As we arrived at the feeding platform I saw the trees rustling ahead me, I looked up to see two Orangutans swinging through the trees right in front of me! I could not believe my eyes, to see these animals in their natural habitat is so overwhelming, now you’ll not be surprised to hear that I cried! I was just so happy to be there and after waiting 19 months I was finally in Borneo watching Orangutans swinging through the jungle, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be seeing such a sight.

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Our walk to the jungle

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The feeding station (minus the Orangutans)

Now….quick mention about the heat. IT.IS.HUMID. While we were watching the Orangutans the sweat was pouring off of me and you are just breathing hot air, it’s a small price to pay though so I won’t complain.

After the feeding station we all came back to the house, chilled out and pretty much collapsed with exhaustion. We couldn’t believe the amazing day we’d had and how lucky we are to be staying here for two months!